Neutralizing the Threat Through Next-Gen Containment

Lieutenant Colonel Jean G.R. Leroux, Directorate Air Requirements for the Canadian Armed Forces, spoke with Combat & Casualty Care regarding their recent procurement of an airworthy, specialized medical module that the Royal Canadian Air Force calls Aeromedical Bio-containment Evacuation System or ABES.

From Combat & Casualty Care, Summer 2021

C&CC: What drove the RCAF decision to procure the Aeromedical Bio-containment Evacuation System (ABES)?

Lt. Col. Leroux: While aeromedical evacuations remain the same at their core, the environment requiring them has been changing. We began to recognize this years ago during Ebola outbreaks. However, the scale of the current pandemic triggered the RCAF to act decisively to provide key aeromedical evacuation services safely in a COVID-19 environment. The need to protect aviators while supporting the government of Canada in the transport of critically injured or highly-contagious patients now and in the future resulted in the procurement of our first Aeromedical Bio-containment Evacuation System or ABES.

C&CC: Given the broad scope and changing environment of aeromedical evacuations, what requirements did you consider and ultimately land on when procuring ABES?

Lt. Col. Leroux: Our immediate objective – or function – was to enable the safe transportation and care of patients with highly-contagious diseases. However, we needed to do so while also reducing the risk of contamination of medical teams, aircrew, and aircraft. This highly specialized environment needed to be a hospital like setting that was efficiently familiar to our medical teams yet adaptable to changing conditions to ensure positive patient and aircrew outcomes. For example, it needed a high efficiency, hermetically sealed, and negatively pressurized ventilation system to prevent contagions from escaping. We also required specialized refrigerator units that could store and transport medical supplies including vaccines.

C&CC: In addition to medical needs, what were the operational and safety aircraft requirements?

Lt. Col. Leroux: In addition to medical functionality, very high on our requirements list was rapid flexibility and interoperability. We needed this aeromedical module to roll-on/roll-off quickly and easily with the ability to operate on the RCAF’s CC-130J Hercules and CC-177 Globemaster aircraft. And, it had to be airworthy. That is, aviation grade structural quality from the pallet up built to OEM standards without the need for waivers.

To ensure we established a comprehensive list of critical operational and safety requirements, we collaborated closely across a broad range of RCAF team members from both aircraft types. This included pilots, loadmasters, ground personnel, maintenance professionals and others. We did this early on to ensure ABES was not only comfortably and professionally effective on the inside to our specialized medical teams, but also built to meet the weight and balance, ground mobility and operational safety standards that our aircrew and ground crew teams have come to expect.

C&CC: Can you share how the RCAF is deploying ABES in its first 10 months of operation?

Lt. Col. Leroux: The RCAF Aeromedical Evacuation Flight, based at 8 Wing Trenton, Ontario, have been using it to execute medical evacuations of critically ill patients at home and internationally, and they’re always ready to support Canada’s international and domestic humanitarian missions

In April, they helped evacuate patients from north Africa using the ABES on board a CC-177. As a result of the critical and rapid care the patients received while on-board during transit to Canada, our crew was able to save lives. More recently in May, we supported the transport of COVID-19 patients from Manitoba to other provinces for specialized care using the ABES on board a CC-130J Hercules.

Our medical crews have deployed on missions with ABES in various configurations. For example, the system has the capability to simultaneously carry four critical care patients requiring medical beds or to transport 16 seated patients. Upon landing, the system can continue operating on the ground, since all that is required is an electrical power supply, such as a gas-powered generator.